Taking its title from the 1695 dictionary by Spanish colonialist friar Francisco Morán, Arte y vocabulario de la lengua ch’olti’ (Art and Vocabulary of the Ch’olti’ Language), as a point of departure for diving into Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa’s ongoing research project, this cluster includes contemporary studies and records of the Ch’olti’ language and people, as well as a wider analysis into Mayan languages and agricultural practices.
Morán’s manuscript documented the Ch’olti language during the time of his life in Guatemala. As an outcome of the friar’s advice, the Ch’olti’-speaking Maya people seem to have been violently annihilated, and their homeland depopulated by the military and missionary powers of the time. Subsequently, the Manche Ch’ol territory remained an enchanted and haunted place for the colonizers: some Spaniards from the 18th century were said to have observed that the fields of cacao, vanilla, and achiote were still being taken care of, even though the land lacked a population to look after the crops. This topic was already explored by Ramírez-Figueroa in his installation Huertos de los ch’olti’ (Orchards of the Ch’olti’, 2020), at the Museo Nacional Thyssen Bornemisza (as part of the exhibition ‘How to Tread Lightly’ October 5, 2020–January 17, 2021, curated by Soledad Gutiérrez). The installation was composed of three beaded curtains, each hanging from a branch, made of bronze and adorned with cacao, vanilla, and achiote fruits, that took inspiration from the “enchanted” gardens of the former Ch’olti’-speaking territory, located in today’s Belize and Guatemala. These three cultigens were at the center of a complex pre-Hispanic agro-economic system among the Manche Ch’ol of the Maya Lowlands until the end of the 17th century with the invasion of the Spaniards.